1. ITV Report

Theresa May accused of offering 'bribes' to Labour MPs with £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund as Brexit vote looms

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

Theresa May has been accused of offering Labour MPs “Brexit bribe” funds for run down towns amid reports the Government has abandoned attempts to put a time limit on the Irish backstop.

As the Prime Minister promised a £1.6 billion package for “left behind” communities in predominately Leave areas, hardline Brexiteers continued to insist on major concessions from Brussels in order to back Mrs May’s deal.

However, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has dropped attempts to secure key Brexiteer demands for a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop, or an end date to it, according to the Daily Telegraph.

How much money is being allocated to each region?

The PM's Stronger Towns Fund, launched on Monday, will be “targeted at places that have not shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as more prosperous parts of the country,” ministers said.

The £1 billion is being allocated using a needs-based formula, with the regions receiving the following sums:

North West
West Midlands
Yorkshire and the Humber
East Midlands
North East
South East
South West
East of England

Another £600 million will be available through a bidding process to communities in any part of the country.

Who has accused the PM of 'bribes'?

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the move was a 'desperate bribe'. Credit: PA

With the PM set to hold a “meaningful vote” on her Brexit plan by March 12, she was accused of trying to “buy” the support of Labour MPs in Leave seats with the funding for deprived towns.

Mrs May said: “For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread.

“Communities across the country voted for Brexit as an expression of their desire to see change – that must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control.

“These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them.”

Former Conservative Anna Soubry said voters will not be fooled by the PM's announcement. Credit: PA

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell branded the initiative a “desperate bribe”.

He said: “This towns fund smacks of desperation from a Government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.”

The Independent Group’s Brexit spokeswoman Anna Soubry said the move was a “desperate measure to buy votes”.

Ms Soubry said: “Voters will not be fooled – especially those in areas which voted Leave and are now demanding a people’s vote because they know, whichever way you do it, Brexit will harm their futures.”

What has been said about the backstop climbdown?

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has reportedly dropped attempt to secure a time limit on the backstop. Credit: PA

The DUP and the Tory European Research Group (ERG) have made it clear they will not support the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement in crunch Commons votes without such legally binding measures.

They oppose the backstop, which is intended to prevent a hard border in Ireland, because it will see the UK obeying EU customs rules if no wider trade agreement is reached after a transition period.

The ERG has set out three tests that they will judge Mr Cox’s efforts to secure changes to the backstop on.

The group wants a legally binding, treaty level arrangement, the language must not just simply reiterate the temporary nature of the backstop, and there “needs to be a clear and unconditional route out” of the arrangement.

The Attorney General is focusing on securing an enhanced “arbitration mechanism” that allows the UK or the EU to provide formal notice that the backstop should come to an end, the Daily Telegraph reports.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Attorney General continues to pursue legally binding changes to the backstop that are necessary to ensure it cannot be indefinite.

"We will not, however, comment on the specifics of negotiations at this critical stage."